Thursday, 26 September 2013

Painting Dreams

"I dream my painting and I paint my dream"

After being at home for around three months and having a wonderful time with my family and friends, I am finally (am I allowed to use that word?) at the beginning of a brand new trip.  I've decided not to tell everyone what my plans are this time.  Partly because the concept of a plan is almost impossible to me, partly because I've changed this "plan" about five times in the past few weeks alone, and partly because I think it will be more fun for people to guess and be excited and surprised about where I check into on my Facebook page [plug - follow me]!

My first stop was London.  I met Katie; a woman who I had met in Liberia five months earlier.  We had a great day in the sun (sun in England in late September? Yes!) catching up on how many changes had come about in our lives since we last saw each other.

She told me something which really stuck with me.

When I dreamed up the idea of travelling overland through West Africa [link] I posted in some of the countries Couchsurfing groups telling them my plans about reaching that country in a certain month and asking for advice.  She read my post in the Liberia group (living there as a working expat), looked at my young age and how hypothetically I had written the post and, as a very experienced traveller herself, decided not to reply because I would never make it.  Then around six months later she received a couch request... from me.  I would arrive in the capital city of Liberia in one weeks time.
She said I had really surprised her and proven her completely wrong.

Of course, I know more than anyone how difficult it was to travel through West Africa, but I've never thought of it as an achievement until Katie told me that story.  It was an achievement because I had dreamed it, planned it, and actually made it happen.

I'm telling this story merely to explain the reality behind a dream.  Yours may be small or big, regular or unique, believable or unbelievable, possible or impossible.  But it is yours and it is only you who can make it happen.

There will be challenges.  The biggest for most people is having certain responsibilities.  Mine used to be doubt, because I knew of nobody else who had done what I wanted to do.  Now, apart from feeling so adventurous yet finding it so difficult to leave my family and friends at home, my biggest challenge is being told over and over again that what I'm doing isn't the right way to live, isn't sustainable, is too dangerous, or that I "will have to settle down one day"... each time having to explain my reasons and thinking, knowing that most people will won't ever understand it or agree.  But I can tell you one thing for free... an absolute truth... my own proven fact... if you want something enough then you can make it happen.

So this is from me (and Vicent Van Gogh) to you:
"I dream my painting and I paint my dream". 

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Last days in Africa

After the countless days on the road through Mali and Senegal, I reached my Gambian family’s [link] compound at 2am when everybody was fast asleep. They weren't expecting me. I had promised that I would return when I left in February, but with no contact since then they had no idea where I was or when we would see each other again.

“Penda! Open the door!” I shouted in a hushed voice as I knocked on her window pane. Her mother Ami heard me and opened her door shouting “Kimmie!” a little loud for the time of the night. We knocked on Penda's window pane for another five minutes and when she finally opened her door, all disorientated from sleep as well as completely naked (the probability of having to answer the door in the middle of the night might have seemed unlikely), she jumped on top of me shouting in excitement as she instantly recognised who it was.

I woke up late in the morning after my tiring journey the previous day.  By late morning I mean late in African terms; about 8am.  I stepped out the bedroom door into the open air square compound and there they all were; the family I had missed so much and who I had thought about so often during my trip.  They screamed and danced and shouted “Awa!”: my adopted African name.

I spent a wonderful few days in the Jonga family’s compound, immediately being reminded of the incredible happiness that surrounds them all individually and the reasons that I love them so much.  Many changes had come whilst I had been away.  Sister Ami had given birth to her baby; to my relief they had decided on another name, not Kimmie, when it turned out to be a boy.  Two of the wives had become pregnant, Fatou and Safi; both promising that if any were girls they would be named after me.  Nena, a young friend of the family who lives nearby, had gotten married to a man who lives far away and who she has only met a few times.  In two weeks time she would be moving away from everything she knows, from the tiny village to chaotic Dakar city, to be a typical wife-servant for his entire family; the expectation for women in most of rural Africa.  Mamoud, one of the oldest brothers of the family, had found a job.  Great news for the family as the other brothers, who work so hard from morning until night every single day of the week, occasionally come home from work with no money in their pockets.  Other than that, everything else was the same.  Oh, and one little thing not to be missed was that the huge tree in the centre of their compound, which the whole family use for shade every day, had hundreds mangos ripe and ready to be picked!  Breakfast!

My time re-visiting my Gambian family ended after just three days.  Here’s what happened:

From the moment I first arrived I was completely in love with everything I saw and experienced and learned about Africa, but I was finally reaching my tipping point.  I had been feeling sick for weeks; from almost constant diarrhoea to absolutely no appetite to vomiting in plastic bags when on the move, and I was becoming so tired of feeling like this and having nothing to comfort me.  I was yearning for the comforts of home and of the easy, privileged life us Westerners all have.  I was so desperate to eat something other than rice and fish; even with a variety of food sometimes available at a costly price in West Africa (which was now impossible for me to buy), it could never reach the standards my stomach was yearning for.  I wanted a clean, flushing toilet and a hot shower and a thick duvet on a bed to hide from the cool British night air.  I wanted to return home faster than I had planned (for my best friend’s wedding in summer), but the problem was how?!

At the time I felt like I maybe had a tiny insight into what it feels like to be a person stuck in the “poor world” who so desperately wants to reach Europe.  But, of course, that is entire bullsh*t because I have an easy British passport and people who can lend me money to catch a flight home.  And that’s what I did.  I’m writing this post from home.  I actually feel guilty for having these privileges.  But I do.
For the past half an hour I’ve been trying to think of some philosophical thought to explain this feeling of how utterly nonsensical life can be, but all I can think of is…

[Look it up.  Or better still, do a trip through Africa and find the true meaning.]